18 Nov 2012

UNILAG - The Young and the Inadequate

In July of 2009, yours truly had just graduated young and starry eyed from a typical unremarkable secondary school in Lagos. The plan was simple, I had already achieved a more than decent score in the UTME (It was still called UME back then), and I just needed to ace the forthcoming Post-UME exams and secure myself a spot in UNILAG, studying a course I wasn’t too passionate about, but seemed an appropriate choice at the time, as I wasn’t too passionate about pretty much everything. So, when exam day rolled around, I was prepared,
and confident. A bit too confident, maybe, because I was still on the road by 1:10 for my 1:20 exam. I got there just in the nick of time, flustered and panicking, as being late is not exactly a habit, but relief came in the news that my exam had not started. After the sighing was done, I was told that those who were scheduled to have written their exams by 8am had just gone in. Sounded pretty odd, for the exams to have commenced 5 hours late, but I figured they’d make up for the lost time. Boy was I ever wrong.

I waited patiently, while eyeing the gloomy thunderheads collecting above warily. Soon enough, it was pouring, and I was standing unprotected in the open. Those scheduled for 11 had just gone in, and it was 5pm already.  It was raining an entire petting zoo relentlessly, and I began having flashbacks to a pneumonic attack I’d had 2 years before that had nearly killed me, and wondering if I’d suffer a relapse. The hours passed and finally, around 8pm, my exams were to begin. By this time, all academic thoughts had been pushed out and replaced with thoughts of how I’d get home as it was my first time in the area, and my heart was with my worried mother, as I didn’t bring my phone along. Long story short, the exam went terribly. In a shameful effort to be innovative and trendy, they’d decided to make the exam electronic, but the ISP developed issues. We were asked to answer 2 questions instead of the usual 4, and on entering my registration number into the database, I was given Math and 2 other non-science subjects to choose from instead of the science subjects I had registered for. Needless to say, the colours on that result weren’t exactly soaring. A year passed, and a similar logistics problem occurred during my UTME, but I scraped through somehow and did the Post-UME a second time and achieved a brilliant result. I gained admission into UNILAG to study Computer Science, and I rejoiced, for my struggle was over.

Again, I was wrong. Apparently my course required a pass in Further Maths to register, and such an important fact had been left out of the JAMB brochure. A few months of torture by the admissions board and I was shunted sideways into Geology, which is a pretty decent course anyway. After that came days of queuing in long lines, and pushing and shoving, and a rat race about the school for registration. Sigh of relief? Not just yet.

Lectures began. Now in the first semester of the first year, all students do the same 5 basic courses: Math, Biology, Chemistry, Biology and Computer Science. These lectures were held in a hall designed to hold about 200, but somehow over a thousand hyperactive and driven students, blood electrified by the novelty of university were expected to fit in there. Chaos was bound to ensue, and by all means, it did. Most students were at this hall before 6:30am, and by the time the doors were opened at 7, there was already an agitated throng at the gates, which always led to a raging stampede, complete with pushing, shoving and bruises. Once, it was so chaotic and violent that railings were broken and doors ripped from their hinges. Surviving that wasn’t enough. Upon entrance, I sat in this poorly ventilated hall day after day and endured hours in the stifling heat while trying to grasp as much as possible being said by the frustrated lecturer; shouting at the top of his lungs because there was no electricity to use the public address system. He can only efficiently address about a tenth of the population, and the rest must make up for it however they can. This went for the entirety of the semester. When it was done, I was thinking I’d finally get that sigh of relief. It didn’t come.
Things went from unbearable to extremely hard. Somehow, this was completely different from what I’d envisioned the university system in Nigeria was. Jarred from the relative comfort of secondary school, I was flustered by the franticness of University life and how laborious it was. The infrastructure was anything but efficient, most of the lecturers were blasé about the students’ understanding, and there was also the Damocles sword in the form of ASUU strikes hanging above, threatening to fall at any moment. The last session, which would normally end in July, did not end till mid-September due to the Occupy Nigeria strike and the name change strike. Issues like these lead to the production of low quality graduates, and a lack of respect or preference for graduates in the labour market.

In light of all these drawbacks, and the nonchalant attitude of the government towards education, a pessimist like me would see the future of Nigeria’s educational system as anything but bright, but there is still a glimmer of hope, hope that can be realized, if revolutionary action is taken. The key here, as opposed to the president’s strategy of building more substandard universities, is the rapid development of the pre-existing ones. From the little things to tables and chairs, to laboratories and libraries, infrastructural reforms should be put in place. More classrooms and lecturers are also necessary to reduce the student-teacher ratio, for better tutoring. Also, easy access to study materials and internet would make academic study less strenuous for the students.  Punctual and constant payment of salaries would help motivate staff to do their duty with feeling. If all these measures are taken, then we can achieve the change that is so necessary to improve Nigeria’s education, and safeguard its’ tomorrow in the process.

Now in my third year, I am looking forward to graduation and freedom from the onerous routine of the Nigerian educational system, but if all I’ve heard about the NYSC and the Nigerian labour market hold true, that sigh of relief may not be coming for a pretty long while.

2012 9JEducation.org work study

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